Bioengineering PhD

The PhD in Bioengineering is awarded to candidates who have displayed understanding in depth of the broad subject matters of the discipline, as well as the ability to make original contributions to the knowledge of the field. Students pursuing a doctoral degree related to biomedical informatics often pursue research positions in academia, industry, or other professional scientific careers. PhD graduates of the MII programs gain skills in several fundamental areas, including software engineering, statistical analysis, research methods, knowledge modeling, and data mining/machine learning. As acquiring, managing, and analyzing biomedical data is crucial to a spectrum of industries (e.g., healthcare, pharmaceutical, technology, etc.), our students have the skills to compete for a wide variety of jobs, including as lead programmers, data scientists, consultants, and biomedical researchers. This point is illustrated by the positions held by graduates of the MII training program, with examples including: Amgen, Northrop Grumman, Hughes Research Laboratories, St. Jude's Hospital, Google, Qualcomm, Microsoft Research, and IBM. Others have gone on to startups related to health informatics technologies.

The PhD program consists of four key steps, described in detail below:

  1. Completion of the Bioengineering core curriculum and electives.
  2. Passing the preliminary written examination.
  3. Advancement to PhD candidacy through the oral qualifying exam.
  4. Completion of the PhD dissertation and defense.

On average, students completing the PhD take 5-6 years. Information on funding for PhD students can be found here.

1. Core curriculum and electives

All students must complete the Bioengineering core curriculum with a letter grade of B+ or better. In addition, PhD students must complete 2 minors. A minor is a focused set of 3 classes, chosen from a topical area listed below as part of the elective areas. Minors are chosen to provide more in-depth training in specific areas of computation, data science, and other topics in order to support planned dissertation research. Students who have completed a Master's degree in an area other than biomedical informatics, and that is judged relevant to their research area by their research advisor, may petition the program's curriculum committee to waive one of the two minor requirements.

bioengineering minors and elective list >

2. Preliminary written exam

On completing the core curriculum, students pursuing a PhD must pass a preliminary written exam (PWE). Students must select four courses to be examined in from the following set of core curriculum classes: Bioengineering 221, Bioengineering 224A, Bioengineering 224B, Bioengineering M226, Bioengineering M227, and Bioengineering M228. Each course's written exam is designed to take two hours. The examination tests students' knowledge in the fundamental areas comprising informatics not only with respect to important concepts and methodologies learned from their core studies, but also their ability to synthesize solutions derived from diverse points of view. The examination will be scored based on the student's ability to clearly formalize a problem, the creativity of their answers, and their ability to justify their reasoning and assumptions for particular methodological choices. Exams are graded on a pass, conditional pass, or fail basis. Students receiving a conditional pass on an exam are given additional coursework and projects to address deficiencies; while students who fail an exam are required to retake an exam for the same course and/or retake the course.

To pass the PWE, the student must earn either a pass or conditional pass on all four selected exams. The PWE can only be taken twice; failure to pass the PWE after two attempts will disqualify the individual from the PhD program. The PWE is offered at the end of the academic year in June/July; and again in September.

3. Oral qualifying exam

On completing the PWE and two minors, the next step toward PhD candidacy is an oral qualifying exam, presenting the proposed PhD dissertation research topic. The student's research advisor works with him/her to define a dissertation topic, and prepares the student for the oral qualifying exams. The research advisor and student will convene a four-member doctoral committee, consistent with the requirements of the UCLA Graduate Division regulations on doctoral committees. Additional members may be added to this committee at the discretion of the research advisor and student. Typically, at least one clinical research domain expert will serve on the student's committee to ensure the research topic is driven by a real-world clinical problem. The student's doctoral committee, with the goal of ensuring that the student is pursuing novel and innovative research, will conduct this oral examination. The purpose of the oral qualifying examination include assessing the biomedical informatics significance and scope of the proposed topic, evaluating the students mastery of prior work and related technologies, critiquing the significance of the students proposed contribution to the general field, assessing the proposed methodological approach; and assessing the scope, timeline, and expected deliverables at the completion of the research. On passing the oral qualifying exam, the student will meet annually (or more regularly) with the doctoral committee to apprise them of dissertation progress.

4. Dissertation and defense

The doctoral dissertation is an in-depth description of the completed research work. The main point of the dissertation is to provide convincing arguments for supporting the hypothesis (thesis) of the doctoral work. A final oral defense of the dissertation presented to the doctoral committee is required for all students. Only two attempts may be made by the student to pass this presentation. Note that the final oral presentation may take place only after all other degree requirements have been completed by the student. The final examination is a presentation and defense of the dissertation to the dissertation committee and is open to the public in accordance with UCLA Graduate Division regulations.

examples of student research >

Student Advising

On enterance to the PhD program, all students are assigned a primary advisory for their first year of study. During the first year, individuals are expected to identify a primary research advisory that will ultimately guide focused studies and the dissertation research. We encourage students to find faculty mentors early on in order to engage in research.Typically, by the end of the first year and based on interactions with the faculty, students will have selected their research advisor. Notably, student advising is not simply about didactic coursework and the dissertation, but also the professional development of the student. Advisees in the MII programs are expected to complete Individualized Development Plans and to work with their advisor(s) to hone the skills needed for targeted professional careers. Students are also made aware of the numerous professional development activities that UCLA provides through the Graduate Division's Career Hub and other venues.